2.3.2 Roman constructions of Europe

The Macedonian empire was defeated militarily by the expanding Roman Empire in 197 BC. Romans, like Greeks, did not have any strong affiliation to the idea of Europe. The Roman Empire spread around the Mediterranean and north to the Atlantic Isles; it included a great diversity of peoples: Celts, Germans, Romans, Iberians, Berbers, Illyrians and Libyans. The Roman Empire was as much Oriental and African as it was Hellenistic. The Roman Empire did, however, use the term Europe but, like the Greeks, they used it as a geographical concept comprising most of present-day continental Europe but excluding Scandinavia, the Atlantic Isles and the Iberian Peninsula (Delanty 1995).

Delanty emphasised that 'there is little congruity between the modern notion of Europe as the West and the ancient idea of Europe' (Delanty 1995, 21). The ancient classical meaning for Europe was geographical and did not constitute a cultural idea, much less a cultural unity, for 'barbarians' inhabited much of the region called Europe.

Roman identity was centred round the origins and power of Rome rather than any sense of identity with geographical regions like Europe. People from all parts of the empire became Roman citizens and rose to positions of power. Even in AD 395 when the empire was split in two, the eastern arm focused itself on the capital, Constantinople, rather than on a geographical territory. The focus of Roman power shifted to the east after AD 395 as the western empire fell to 'barbarian' invaders. Constantinople became far more Oriental and Greek than the empire focused on Rome had been.

Hobsbawm argued that it is really impossible to delineate Europe as a geographic entity because 'as everyone knows, it has no eastern borders, and the continent therefore exists exclusively as an intellectual construct' (Hobsbawm 1997, 289). The construction of a territory called Europe by the classical 'civilisations' was not, then, so much a matter of drawing precise boundaries but the definition of the idea that they were superior to their barbarian neighbours. During the domination of the lands around the Mediterranean sea by Roman culture, a new idea came into being that would shape the construction of Europe, in the form of Christendom.


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